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Jess stood there once the clatter and the smoke died away, wondering if it wasn’t all a bit too easy. They had managed to push through the guards and the armed robots which had been surrounding the machine and the top floor. The battle had been swift, with much of the attack coming from Jess and the order. The robots did what they were programmed to do, but the guards had seemed hesitant to really go at them. They had folded quickly, retreating and abandoning their posts relatively easily.
Jess said this to one of the other members, a small woman by the name of Eva.
“I know what you mean, it’s as if they were just going through the motions or something.” Eva said, throwing a robot to one side which had been sparking frantically.
“Are we sure this is the correct machine, or if this is the right place?” Jess asked, to both Eva and the others. They all surrounded the machine now, some of the members dealing with the stray robots which had been whirling and continuing on as the guards had fled. It was Daniel who spoke.
“Yes, this is definitely the machine. But having a look at it now, there isn’t anything set for release.” He said.
“Are we sure the timing is right?” Eva asked. One of the members contacted the temple to check in and to ask them this also, his wrist illuminating. Jess went across to the Pandora machine now. The huge apparatus looked like a giant upside-down wish bone, its two arms pointing up into the air. At its base there was an empty receptacle, presumably where the pathogen would go. It was voluminous, the size of a small hover pod.
“These conductors stimulate the contents and distribute them equally up these wands. The levels have to be equal or the distribution would malfunction here.” Daniel said, pointing to two valves up the sides of one of the wands. Jess could see a strip of little holes like that on a flute, with pressure lights pulsating underneath.
“So with ours mixture, we need to have the correct consistency also, or just for the distribution outward?” Jess asked him, not really sure of the science to it all. She was happy with the magic, and elemental nature which worked in a space she didn’t have to understand. But the nature of science always confused her.
“Both really, they obviously planned for a consistency of equality throughout the release, if it changes as it propels; it will shut down. I guess this was to avoid uneven distribution.” Daniel said. Jess looked at him like a child might, not getting what he was saying. He registered her confused expression.
“It means they were probably aware it was unstable, and they built in a failsafe. It’s good really that they didn’t want to just release something that was not controlled, or what they expected.” Daniel said, looking over the machine further.
“Very surprising from Mr Tsutsumi really.” Eva added, her brow furrowed.
One of the other members walked over to them, speaking to the temple and drawing the others to listen too.
“So we have the other machine, is that correct?” He asked into his wrist where a little image of a head floated.
“We have secured the other site yes, but there is an absence of material.” The little head replied, fuzzing in and out of clarity.
“Same here, we have the machine no problem. But there’s no agent to be seen, or even plans to upload one.” He said.
“Okay, remain with the machine, and let me get back to you as quick as I can. We’ve had some developments here, and we need to know if it’s safe to release the holy water still.” The head said. Jess could make out it was Dr. Winkoski. They all turned and looked at each other, wondering what to do next.
Karen clicked off the call and turned to face Nina, who stood holding two cups of tea. She handed one of them over to her.
“So we have the machines, just no presence of the virus. Were we off with our information, had Aiko not precured his source?” Karen asked her, she blew on the rim of the cup.
“No, it’s not that. We know he has his manufactured agent, and he needed a source from the altered to combine with this. This has been planned for a while. Something must have gone wrong. His encounter with the Pope must have changed things for him.” Nina said, sipping from her own cup.
“Then his plan has shifted since returning, presuming that he did. We don’t really know what took place there.” Karen said.
“No, not entirely. We know he was stopped entering the gates of Asher, but what state the Pope left him in is anyone’s guess. We can’t move forward with our own until he is accounted for. We don’t know what back up plans he has developed, or what reaction technology he may have devised. People like Aiko always have another route to take. We must locate him before we release ours.” Nina said, a worried expression hovering on her face for a moment before disappearing.
“What did he say when you spoke?” Karen asked, referring to the Pope.
“That they were to take Aiko’s family into the altered, and that he would follow. I said we’d buy him some time. We’ve got the machines secured now; we just need to wait to hear from him.” Nina said, looking at Karen in a way that conveyed her thoughts on the Pope’s communication abilities, or lack thereof.
“I see, well he does have Levon with him. Perhaps he will be more communicative.” Karen offered.
“I hope so too.” Nina said, sipping more of the tea, which burnt her tongue.
Levon felt cold there for the first time. Usually in the Altered there was little change in temperature, the atmosphere was always heavy and hung like a humid day, the temperature always warm. But he shivered, the fog swirling around them. He had long ago learnt how to manipulate the surroundings of the world there; the emotions and thoughts usually constructed the space around you. But here now, there was a cold deadness, as if the Altered was no longer receptive, but in a state of sleep. Reduced back to its default it seemed.
“You feel it also?” Samuel asked Levon, noticing him shiver along with Aiko’s family.
“I’ve never known it like this before.” Levon said. The girl before them then spoke.
“It’s trying to repair; something has attacked the fabric of this world.” She said, helping the older woman get to her feet.
“She’s right. Aiko’s darkness had spread too far and wide. When he tried to get through the gates of Asher, he unleased a huge amount of negative energy. The Altered is trying to heal, trying to shift. The test in the Limbo only made things more unbalanced. Like people, it can only take so much.” Samuel said.
“Who are you?” The girl suddenly asked him. She was young, around twelve. Much younger than Aiko.
“I’m Samuel, good to meet you. And this is Levon.” Samuel said, motioning to his son.
“I’m Akari. Thank you for rescuing us. I don’t remember much, but I do remember those horrible tubes in the facility.” She said. Her family were quiet, slowly understanding where they were.
“You’re welcome, and you’re all safe now. But what did you mean that you had come from the Altered?” It was Levon who asked, he had been watching the family; they all seemed relieved to be there and together.
“What do you think I mean? I came from here; it was where I was…constructed I guess you could say.” She said, matter-of-factly.
“You’re a spirit of this place, taken into form?” Samuel asked. The girl nodded.
“Wait, I don’t understand. Are you Aiko’s sister?” Levon asked, clearly perplexed.
The older woman put her hand on the young girl’s shoulder then and spoke.
“You have saved us, and we thank you. This is Ai’s doing, we know this.” She said, her accent heavy with Japanese. Samuel nodded in recognition. The woman muttered something, shaking her head.
“He denies us, he forgets us. He tries to bury us. But we cannot be forgotten.” She said, her eyes alert, betraying her sad, aged face.
“Ai isn’t my brother. I wouldn’t call him my father either, but he was the one who brought me over. I live in both realms, on separate plains.” The girl said, a fragile tinge to her words, yet she stood assuredly.
Samuel turned to Levon.
“Aiko unlocked the essence of spirits here, while exploring the magic. Reversed engineered somewhat. His scientific approach to this place, probably how he tried to understand things. Whenever we want something, we must give something back. He traded part of himself to absorb more of the essence of the Altered. He takes it to a dark place, because he does not know how to handle the power properly. The Altered, being what it is, created Akari here, from his particles.” He said. Levon could see a world of knowledge in his father’s eyes.
“The nice parts!” Akari said, smiling.
“You betcha.” Samuel added, smiling back to her.
“We care for her; we raise her as our own. But she deserves more than what we can offer. We cannot rid ourselves of the SIN which keeps us in place.” The old woman said sadly.
“And Aiko knows all this?” Levon asked?
“Knows and tries to hide. But he can’t be rid of us, or me at least. If I die, Aiko dies.” Akari said.
“You’d think he’d keep you safe, protected somewhat. Not living on the west-side where things are hard and dangerous.” Levon said.
“We live in love there, we survive.” The older woman said, almost defiantly.
“Ai does not know everything that we do, or where I am all the time. I know his movements, and when he is in this place.” Akari said.
“Then you should have known I was stood right over here then.” They heard from a voice over by the bridge. They looked across to see Aiko stood there in his suit, a dark cloud swirling above his head.
“What developments do you think she meant?” Jess said, anxious after the call with Karen.
Eva shook her head, not knowing herself. Daniel was examining the machine further, looking over the controls and the entry module for the pathogen.
“Well, at least we know they can’t release the virus now. That’s something.” She said, she was trying to convince herself more than the others. Something felt off to her.
“But where is it then, our information had them releasing both of them tonight.” Eva added, sharing the concern.
“We need to talk to someone, to get some information. Any of those guards conscious?” Jess asked, motioning to some of the security team they had already fought with.
“Nah, we did too good a job.” One of the temple members said, checking the guards.
Just as he said this, Jess spotted something out of the corner of her eye. Something moved off around the corner of a wall.
“Be right back.” Jess said, hurtling over a fallen robot and heading off towards the movement.
Jess was quick, and the person was slow. She seized Stefan by the back of his neck, spinning him around.
“Gotcha.” Jess said, and he let out a tiny yelp. She marched him back to where the other’s stood, the alarms had finally stopped, and an eerie silence had fallen on the scene.
“Who are you?” Eva asked him as he stood before them and the machine.
“Please, don’t hurt me.” Stefan said, looking around at the others on the floor and the remains of the robots. His suit was a mess, patches of oil sprayed up his leg, and his suit jacket was dirty and torn; a line of blood stained his collar.
“Don’t give us reason to.” Jess said, nudging him with her weapon. “What is happening here, where is the virus you intended to release?” She asked him.
“It’s all gone wrong, it’s all failed. Aiko has gone mad, he’s deranged.” He said. He was not hysterical, more of a defeated man who had his world rocked, and his illusions shattered. He had been brought up in a world where there was a clear system and order to the disapprobation of those with SIN. Aiko had fallen in his eyes, and everything now seemed unclear.
“We know this, but where is the virus?” Eva pressed.
Stefan looked around, as if surprised it was not up by the machine.
“If it’s not here, then the consignments weren’t moved up from the containment sector in the lower levels. We have the laboratories and higher risk units underground. Aiko didn’t ascertain the material from the other place for it to impart with our agent.” He said, letting his head hang.
“So we were right, it’s not set to be released now. We need to check the same at the other site.” Eva suggested.
“What happened to Aiko?” Jess asked Stefan as one of the members began to contact the other team, having been unable before.
“He surprised us, I was trying to save us all really. Keeping his family safe. He’d moved to a mental sphere that I couldn’t understand. His actions were beyond cold, calculated. But when the others took his family, he was enraged. He murdered the doctor, and I barely escaped myself.” Stefan said.
“What others.” Jess asked him, not concerned who the doctor was. Stefan looked more awkward, shifting nervously. Then he sighed heavily.
“We had intercepted some people from that other realm, we had some fatalities but two were kept in stasis. Aiko had plans for them, but they were able to get free. They attacked me and the doctor, before disappearing with Aiko’s family, presumably to that other realm.” He said.
“An old and younger man?” Jess asked, knowing who he meant.
“Yes, one who’s abilities I’ve never seen with such power.” He added.
“And they took them to the Altered? What about Aiko?” Jess asked, hastily.
“He is mad, insane. The things he wants to do now. No one is safe.” Stefan said, clearly shaken.
“But what is he going to do, where is he now?” Jess said, the urgency frantic in her eyes.
“He plans to kill everyone he can, he’s gone to the Altered after them, and he’s bringing back something that will do more damage then these machines ever could.” He shook his head, defeatedly.